Donor Contact: Make It Personal

A recent conversation with an alumna of a public university in the east illustrated to me how a variety of contact methods can be used effectively. She is an international businesswoman in the Los Angeles area being courted by one of the leading private universities there as a potential trustee and eight-figure donor.

A dean from the private university met with her in her office on a Thursday to lay out in detail a program for which they were seeking her support. She had first heard about the program when the dean briefed her on several of the college’s initiatives at a luncheon on campus a few weeks earlier and she had asked for more information.

The Thursday visit went well and the dean asked if he might provide her with a formal proposal for a gift and she agreed. On Friday he emailed her a multi-million dollar proposal which she forwarded to her financial and legal advisors for review. On Monday she emailed the dean that she was ready to discuss making a gift.

Now, you and I both know things rarely move this fast but understand that the university had done its homework and knew from earlier conversations that she travels on business throughout the world much of the time. Indeed, she was out of the office that Friday through Monday after the dean’s visit.

The point of all of this is that the dean used contact methods – personal visits, email, and telephone — that were customized to her needs and thus effective. But note none of them would have been successful without the personal visits on campus and in her office. And, by the way, she loves her alma mater and supports it generously but told me the story to help it improve the way it worked with its major donors which she saw as uneven at best.

So, we are strong advocates of including both personal visits and other donor contact as part of the metrics for major gift officers. The foundation, however, must be personal visits complemented by other contacts.

A recent conversation with Curt Simic, the much-admired President Emeritus of the Indiana University Foundation, reminded me of his routine practice of penning a personal note after each visit with a donor. Snail mail still has a place alongside visits, telephone calls, and email.

Just make them all personal, please.